‘Wicked’ at Hippodrome Theatre at France-Merrick Performing Arts Center

Have you ever wondered what happened before Dorothy’s arrival in the Land of Oz in the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz? How did the Wicked Witch become so wicked? How did the Good Witch become so good? These and other questions are answered in a spectacular, high-flying prequel to the stories of that mythical land, as the National Tour of Wicked visits Baltimore’s beautiful and historic Hippodrome Theatre.

Alyssa Fox (Elphaba) and Carrie St. Louis (Glinda) in the national tour of 'Wicked.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
Carrie St. Louis (Glinda) and Alyssa Fox (Elphaba) in the national tour of ‘Wicked.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Based on Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, this Tony Award-winning Broadway show features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwarz and book by Winnie Holzman. With just the right mix of comedy and drama, Wicked imagines the early lives of two very different girls who meet in a fantasy land and form a sort of “odd couple” friendship, and what becomes of that friendship when the forces of jealousy, bigotry, and political corruption take over.

The incomparable Alyssa Fox plays Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West, and the remarkable Carrie St. Louis portrays Glinda who is dubbed as the Good Witch. With most of the story told in flashback, the play begins with Glinda arriving in a bubble to confirm the news that the Wicked Witch of the West is dead, as the citizens of Oz celebrate their good fortune. Then, Glinda starts to have memories of Elphaba’s unfortunate life. Conceived through an affair between the wife of the Governor and a mysterious stranger using a magical green seduction potion, Elphaba was born with emerald green skin. Glinda takes on a wistful sadness about her former friend even as the Ozians engage in the triumphant production number, “No One Mourns the Wicked.”

The flashback continues with Glinda and Elphaba becoming friends at school.  If we ignore her green skin and budding mystical powers, Elphaba is a good and kind, bright but insecure teenage girl who wants to fit in, wants to be liked by her peers, and wants to fall in love and be loved in return. Glinda, on the other hand, is the quintessential confident, successful, “Popular” teenage girl, although a bit dim intellectually. She asks her professor, “Why don’t you just teach us history, and stop harping on the past?” Nevertheless, Glinda is also good and kind and willing to help Elphaba gain the acceptance she so desperately seeks. Later, in Jane Austen-esque fashion, their friendship is sorely tested as both girls become attracted to the wealthy, dashing, head-turningly handsome Fiyero, beautifully portrayed by Ashley Parker Angel.  As if that weren’t enough, their friendship is tested again when they meet the Wizard (John Davidson) and each has to decide whether to “grovel in submission to feed your own ambition” or say, “I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game.”

Alyssa Fox’s performance is nothing short of amazing as she captures the complex layers of Elphaba’s personality and displays a thrilling and compelling vocal talent in such numbers as the hopeful, “The Wizard and I” and the despairing, “I’m Not That Girl.” But, the showstopper comes when Elphaba rises up and refuses to accept limitations in the dazzling and audacious anthem, “Defying Gravity.”

Ashley Parker Angel (Fiyero). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Ashley Parker Angel (Fiyero). Photo by Joan Marcus.

With a lovely soprano voice and skillful acrobatic dancing, Carrie St. Louis shines in the role of Glinda—a vain, shallow, almost criminally perky young woman who is used to getting her own way, but who grows to see the good in others. When she performs the novelty number, “Popular,” she is sweet, sarcastic, and hilarious—all at the same time. In his portrayal of the heartthrob Fiyero, Ashley Parker Angel provides a sometimes silly, sometimes sad, but always entertaining performance. And, appropriately cast as the Wizard, the legendary John Davidson of television fame gives a multi-talented portrayal of a surprisingly multi-dimensional character.

Led by Director Joe Mantello, with Musical Staging by Wayne Cilento, all cast members turn in bravura performances, especially in sizzling production numbers such as the rock ballet, “Dancing Through Life,” and flawless aerial work. Kudos to Music Director P. Jason Yarcho, Dance Arranger James Lynn Abbott, Music Supervisor Stephen Oremus, and Music Coordinator Michael Keller! And a special nod to the crystal clear Sound Design that helped to tell this amazing story.

Costume Designer Susan Hilferty provides a stunning array of colors and styles. Especially effective are the black and white costumes in a variety of patterns for members of the ensemble in “Dancing Through Life,” along with the brilliant green costumes in the Emerald City scenes.

Set Designer Eugene Lee uses a variety of circles of various sizes—gears, wheels, clock faces, and dials—as the main theme, along with the iconic dragon with eerie red eyes and a huge wing span, high atop the front of the stage. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design provides a near perfect complement with a clever combination of haunting fades and bright crayon colors.

Wicked has everything a theatre-lover could ask for, including witty satire, great music, and ultra-clever lyrics. And, there are many plot twists and references that will especially delight fans of the original Wizard of Oz film. Quite literally, Wicked soars to the heights and you won’t want to miss this transcendent theatre experience!

The cast of 'Wicked.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
The cast of ‘Wicked.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Wicked plays through April 26, 2015 at the Hippodrome Theatre at France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw St, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (800) 982-ARTS or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.


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